In Edgar A. Poe's story "The Tell Tale Heart," what is the pattern in Poe's use of auditory imagery (can you categorize these sounds?) How does this pattern create a sense of menace?  

Expert Answers
rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One way to think about Poe’s use of sound in “The Tell-Tale Heart” is to think instead of the importance of silence. Silence is an expression of power for the narrator–by being silent, or be silencing noises (the old man’s heartbeat) he asserts control over his surroundings. Noises, on the other hand, represent the intrusion of disorder, a kind of aural mess that has to be “cleaned up.” The aural pattern in the story is one of silence and sound.

This pattern is evident in the old man’s murder. The narrator has silently put his head into the room – he inadvertently touches the lantern and makes a noise, alerting the old man. The narrator then remains absolutely still (“for a whole hour I did not move a muscle”). Finally, the old man groans (“the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe”). The sound of the old man’s heart beat becomes louder and louder: finally, afraid that “the sound would be heard by a neighbor,” the narrator springs on the old man and kills him, restoring silence again.

rdb919 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” auditory images are very important to the tone and effect of the story. The narrator says from the start that his hearing is especially acute and that he can hear all things. He hears several types of noises throughout the story. He hears noises in the house and ticking sounds. The house noises include hinges creaking and the old man groaning. He also hears a ticking or beating sound that sounds like a watch enveloped in cotton. He believes it to be either his own or the old man’s heartbeat. Even after he kills the old man, he thinks he hears the man’s heartbeat. 

The pattern of creepy noises in the house and beating sounds increase the tension of the story. By the time the narrator is being questioned by the police, readers have been put on edge by all of the auditory sounds. When the narrator finally cries out and confesses, the tension explodes and the story comes to a close.

Read the study guide:
The Tell-Tale Heart

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question